Saturday, June 16, 2012

Challah Bread

I've been baking my entire life, and if there's one thing I've come to learn, is that my dad is NOT a sweets person.  Yes I've said it before, but his dislike of sweets and other baked goods really comes out during the summer months especially.  Every single time I say that I want to try out a new recipe for a fruit cobbler or pie he just shakes his head and always says the same thing.

"I don't like desserts with fruit.  Why does everything you make right now have to have cooked fruit in it?"

I tell him that I can't help it, it's just a summer thing. I mean, I gotta take advantage of all the fresh peaches, blueberries, raspberries, and other fruits that are in season when I can.  When I made my Summer Strawberry Buttermilk Cake, my mom and I LOVED it, but my dad just thought it was "alright, if you like that kinda dessert" (referring to the cooked strawberry bits).  Sigh.  Some people just can't appreciate a good fruit dessert I guess.

My dad's dislike of sweets isn't limited to just fruit desserts though.  Anything that seems overly sugary or chocolatey is just not for him.  I want to experiment with some S'mores based desserts soon, and I already know not to even go near him with whatever I come up with.  The results just wouldn't be good.  

He always asks when I'm going to make something that he actually likes.  For him, this means baking up some bread.  Now I love making bread, but I'll be perfectly honest, it just takes a lot of time, and sometimes (okok, more like every time, I just get lazy) and I decide to make something else.  This time however, I decided to roll up my sleeves and bake a loaf of challah bread just for my dad.  

Challah bread is something that we always have at my house, and it's one of my dad's favorites.  I love challah bread simply because it has a slightly sweet undertone that is perfect for making things like bread pudding or French toast (one of my most FAVORITE things ever), yet is still perfect for making a really delicious sandwich.  It's also pretty simple to make, and was one of the first recipes I chose to work with when I first started baking yeast breads.  

This recipe for challah is very simple to follow; it only has a few ingredients, all of which should be staples in your kitchen pantry.  The only confusing part is the braiding.  I'll admit, the first couple of times I made challah, I was never able to figure out how to create a 4-strand braid, and I'd always end up making a regular 3-stand braid, purely out of frustration. This time however, I was successful in creating a beautiful 4-strand braided loaf of challah, and I was just SO pleased with how it looked after I baked it.  What did I do differently this time?  

I went to Youtube.

Yup, I actually sat and watched videos on how to easily create a 4-strand braid.  I am not ashamed to admit it. This was the video that I found most helpful, and I have to say, I was actually amazed that it had taken me so long to figure out how to create a 4-strand braid, because it's really not that hard once you get the hang of it.  I don't have full step by step photos of the braiding process, because I got a little too excited once I realized that the braiding was working, and before I knew it, I had completed the entire braid.  I do have a numbered braiding guide for you though, and if all else fails, a quick stop on Youtube will definitely help you out.  There's no shame in that!

As good as the challah bread tasted once it was baked, the best part definitely came before.  The smell of this loaf of bread as it baked was just incredible, and it's no wonder my dad loves bread so much.  The smell is just amazing, and it made me want to bake bread more often!  The challah came out delicious, and my dad loved it.  It was the perfect Father's Day gift!  

Happy Father's Day to everyone!

Challah Bread
recipe from Williams Sonoma, Essentials of Baking


2 packages active, dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature, plus 1 egg, beaten, for glaze
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
poppy seeds or sesame seeds, for sprinkling (optional)


To make the dough in a stand mixer, in the 5-quart bowl of the mixer, dissolve the yeast in warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Add the sugar, 3 eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, the salt, and butter.  Place the bowl on the mixer, and with the dough hook, begin to knead the dough on low speed, working in the remaining flour as needed, in order to prevent the dough from becoming too sticky.  Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes.  The dough may appear sticky, but will become less sticky as it is kneaded.  Remove the dough from the bowl. 

Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover the bowl with a slightly damp kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm spot in your kitchen until the dough has doubled in volume, about two hours.

Line a half sheet pan  with parchment paper or a silicone liner.  Punch down the dough, and scrape it onto a clean work surface.  Divide the dough into four equal portions, and roll each piece into a rope that is the length of the prepared sheet pan.  Use your palms and even pressure to ensure that the ropes are of equal thickness throughout.

To create a four-strand braid, line up the four strands in front of you vertically. Lightly pinch the tops of the ropes together. To make the braiding process simple, we're going to number the positions the ropes are in- 1, 2, 3, 4, going from left to right.  What we're numbering are the positions, not the strands themselves, so keep in mind that the rope furthest to the left will always be "1," even though a different rope may be in that position at any point during braiding. To start the braid, cross "4" over "2."  Then, cross "1" over "3," and then cross "2" over "3."  Repeat this process until you have reached the end.  Pinch the ends together, and tuck them under the braid.  Transfer the braided loaf to the prepared pan, cover with a dry kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm spot until the loaf has doubled in size, around 45-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. 

Brush the braided loaf with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, if using.  Bake the braided loaf until it is golden brown, about 35 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack, and allow to cool completely before slicing.  Enjoy!

Makes 1 large braided loaf.


  1. I've been following your blog for several months now(since you had all those great Halloween cupcakes, they got me hooked) and I finally tried this recipe a few days ago. It is so delicious that I have a second loaf rising as we speak! I was wondering if you've done much with Italian and other breads? I'm trying to find a good recipe, but there are so many choices I can't make a decision! Would love to see you play with more savory breads and such, this is my go-to place for new recipes!

    1. I'm glad you liked the challah recipe, it really is one of my favorites! I'm fairly new to bread-making, but I definitely want to experiment more with savory types of bread- stick around for more bread recipes! I'm just waiting for the weather to cool down slightly haha, but savory bread recipes will be coming soon! Thanks for reading :)


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